In the pandemic lockdown year of 2020 with its double-digit economic slump (9.9 percent was the official figure), Jujuy and Neuquén were the only provinces to register growth thanks to lithium and shale respectively. Both those booms continue to go from strength to strength but this did not prevent an upset in the latter’s provincial election three weekends ago bringing six decades of Neuquén Popular Movement rule to an end. Tomorrow is Jujuy’s turn to go to the polls together with La Rioja and Misiones – can lightning strike twice?
Not according to the pundits – in each of these three provinces the ruling party is expected to retain its extended grip on power even if the face will only remain the same in La Rioja, where Peronist Governor Ricardo Quintela is seeking re-election (despite a health scare with his heart murmur in late April). Carlos Menem’s province also has the most extended grip on power since La Rioja has only known Peronist governors since 1983 (only Formosa, La Pampa, San Luis and Santa Cruz can say the same). The ruling party of Misiones can be dated back to 2003 or even 1987, depending on whether Carlos Rovira is defined as the last of the Peronist governors (1999-2003) or the first of the Concordia Social governors (2003-2007). The Radicals of Jujuy are relative newcomers – outgoing Governor Gerardo Morales ended 32 uninterrupted years of Peronist rule in 2015 with a vengeance, his 58.3 percent landslide likely fuelled by a backlash against disruptive Túpac Amaru leader Milagro Sala (lithium in very early days back then) and thus a miracle indeed.
A Peronist triumph in La Rioja or a Radical victory in Jujuy will be duly celebrated in the respective national party headquarters tomorrow night (and far more the reverse) but the nationwide impact of this provincial voting is limited – according to last year’s census, these three provinces have 2,463,522 inhabitants between them (Misiones more than the other two together) or little over five percent of the Argentine population. So best to look at them one by one in strictly provincial terms.
Proceeding in alphabetical order, Jujuy (586,870 voters) has the most projection into the national scenario – not because this northernmost province is anything of an electoral bellwether but because a big win for his economy minister Carlos Sadir would add greater clout to the presidential ambitions of Morales in the jostling for the Juntos por el Cambio nomination. No re-run of the 58.3 percent of 2015 is expected but perhaps something close to the 43.7 percent with which Morales was re-elected in 2019. Radical chances are boosted by opposition fragmentation with the Peronists running no less than three rival gubernatorial candidates (Justicialist Party provincial chairman Rubén Rivarola; Juan Cardozo, backed by the Snopek dynasty, which has given the province three governors, and by Milagro Sala; and La Quiaca Mayor Rodolfo Tecchi) and even the left split with Frente de Izquierda national deputy Alejandro Vilca claiming the lion’s share of that vote but Trotskyite Iñaki Aldasoro also running for the Partido Obrero – the only female candidate is libertarian Cecilia García Casasco. The Peronists who ruled Jujuy for three decades are not even guaranteed second place with Vilca somewhat above 15 percent outrunning Rivarola slightly below while Cardozo and García Casasco barely top five percent.
If the Peronists are in danger of slipping into third place in Jujuy, Juntos por el Cambio face a similar risk in La Rioja against the powerful challenge of libertarian Martín Menem, nephew of the man who ruled the province for nine years and Argentina for 10 – as somebody who could be supremely identified with the “caste,” Menem prefers to underline dollarisation within Javier Milei’s combo. The libertarians even have the luxury of splitting their vote since Cristian Corzo claims to be the “real liberal,” although his differences with Menem seem to be less ideological than the argument of “I was there first,” as belonging to the traditional conservative UCeDe party. The opinion polls differ wildly because while some place Menem as runner-up to Quintela, others give Felipe Álvarez (the ex-Peronist and non-partisan gubernatorial candidate who only joined Juntos por el Cambio this year) double Menem’s vote – we must await the verdict of the ballot-boxes. Like Jujuy, La Rioja has only one female gubernatorial candidate but from the far left, not right – Frente de Izquierda’s Carolina Goycochea. Trailing the others is Mario Olmedo who has made his rejection of polarisation clearer than what he actually stands for.
And Quintela? His opinion poll ratings are around 36 percent but La Rioja’s party machine and silent majority of the 294,509 voters are expected to see him through comfortably enough. We shall know tomorrow.
And finally Misiones, the smallest, newest (only since 1953) and most densely populated of these three provinces with almost a million voters (989,148). If Jujuy is Radical and La Rioja Peronist, naming the ruling party of Misiones is not so simple. Its preferred label is Frente Renovador para la Concordia but since this raises copyright issues with Economy Minister Sergio Massa’s party, it is obliged to stick to its original name of Partido de la Concordia Social as its official designation. The 2015-2019 governor Hugo Passalacqua (one of the many Radicals co-opted by Kirchnerism as from 2003) now aspires to succeed outgoing Governor Oscar Herrera Ahuad but all this century only one name has ever mattered in Misiones politics – Carlos Rovira, Peronist governor from 1999 to 2003 when he lost control of the Justicialist Party to his predecessor Ramón Puerta whereupon he invented the Concord label and whose 2006 bid to secure infinite re-election beyond his two terms via a single-clause constitutional reform suffered a referendum fiasco.
All this might make this party’s ideology seem as nebulous as its name but no doubts as to its electoral clout – 72.4 percent of the vote in 2019. No space for the other seven gubernatorial candidates (four of them women this time) with Radical deputy Martín Arjol and ultra-Kirchnerite agrarian leader Isaac Lenquaza the most competitive and probably not much point either, but any respectable vote will be mentioned in next week’s after-the-match column (along with a preview of five more provincial elections).